Letters to the Editor

Friday December 16, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just have to answer Stuart Davis’s letter that was in the Dec. 9 edition of the Daily Planet. 

Yes, UC needs to cut costs by cutting waste, but not at the cost of necessary good service, local or not. 

My company, ALKO office supply, is local and does have special low prices for UC that I guarantee are not at “very high margins” as Davis says. Office Max’s current prices to the university are competition busters and cannot be permanent; their stockholders will not allow it. 

You think Zelda Bronstein should compare? Fine then, let’s compare, first, we do hire local people; in fact we have a decade’s long mentorship program with Berkeley High School students and are very proud of some of the results. Secondly I will gladly compare my employee’s salaries with Office Max’s and I will win again. Thirdly, my employees enjoy child care right here in the store and every one of them has full medical coverage with Mr. Davis’ employer, Kaiser Permanente, that I pay for 100 percent. I have no idea what Office Max offers, but I bet you that I win again! 

As for lining my pockets, the downturn in retail in downtown Berkeley has caused my business five consecutive years of losses, and I am quite sure that the salary that I take is far less than what Kaiser Permanente pays Mr. Davis. 

Finally, I don’t necessarily agree with Zelda Bronstein’s comparison of UC as Wal-Mart either, but I do think that Office Max is mimicking some of the infamous retailer’s unfair tactics. 

Gary Shows 

ALKO office supply 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just learned that last Tuesday the City Council voted to censure the mayor for secret back-room dealing. Well, it’s about time the council stood up and did something about that terrible agreement which Mayor Bates negotiated in secret with UC which will allow massive university expansion and destroy our quality of life. And not only that, the vote was unanimous—all 10 councilmembers voted for censure! Wait a minute, we don’t have 10 councilmembers. Oh, that was San Jose City Council! I forgot that in Berkeley we promote secret back-room dealing. Darn! 

Doug Buckwald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her Dec. 9 letter to the Daily Planet, Cyndi Johnson expresses her inability to understand why the University of California is “run so immorally” and then describes a number of its plans inimical to most people in Berkeley or in California. 

The underlying cause of UC’s behavior is quite simple. 

For decades, governors have appointed regents on the basis of one over-riding criterion: that they serve corporate interests whenever these are in conflict with those of the students, teachers, or the rest of us. 

The regents in turn chose the UC president in precisely the same way and pay him handsomely for doing as expected. 

This is further compounded by legislatures that, instead of taxing corporations and providing the university an adequate budget, do the opposite. Thus the university has an excuse to accept money with many strings attached from the practically untaxed, corporate owners and CEOs. 

The University of California is perhaps still a “noble institution,” and certainly many marvels come from it, but too often corporate interests take preference over the benefits it could provide for all. 

Richard Wiebe 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Some questions about the Ashby BART “Transit Village”: 

Why would people in the local workforce (teachers, nurses, and firefighters) want to live at a “transit” hub, when they aren’t going anywhere? A transit hub residence makes sense for people who transit somewhere else to work during the day, and just come back to Berkeley to sleep. 

If we want to provide lower-cast housing for the local workforce, why are only one fifth of the units going to be “affordable”?  

The grant for $120,000 is only a drop in the bucket for something that will cost upwards of $100 million. 

Do people realize what a building with 300 units will look like? It will dwarf the giant Gaia building, which only has 90 units.  

Finally, what is more important, meeting an Oct. 14 deadline for a grant application, or involving the community at the outset in helping to decide the future of their neighborhood? 

Anne Wagley  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m troubled by the proposal to put a “transit village” on the Ashby Avenue BART station. It’s not the fact of a transit village that troubles me, but the size of the project: 300 units. I thought that such projected villages were more in the range of 50 to 100 units. 

None of my friends in Mr. Anderson’s district (including my daughter) has received any mailing or other communication from his office about the project. With such a huge project it seems odd that the Daily Planet article was the first any of them heard about it. Is this, I hate to suggest, another move to place a large project in South Berkeley without consulting the people who live in the area? 

It has a direct impact on all homeowners and renters in the district. The designation of the transit village somehow automatically changes the zoning within a quarter-mile radius around the village to allow high density building. This, once again, brings the prospect of changing a largely single-family home area into a crowded enclave. Would such a project have reached this stage without neighborhood knowledge around North Berkeley BART station? Once again, South Berkeley is being treated as a sub-marginal area not worthy of being informed or consulted.  

I’m also puzzled by reference to the SBND Commission. I thought it was disbanded some time ago. Is it in existence again? Are its meetings public? 

This may be an excellent project, but the development of the plans seems to have gone on without the kind of consultation and transparency we expect from our elected officials and appointed boards. 

Phyllis Brooks Schafer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A project of over 300 units at Ashby BART’s West lot is not major but massive! 

Many neighbors would welcome a 10- to 30-unit housing development above commercial space at the West Ashby BART lot. Many are avid supporters and users of public transit. But 300-plus units seems extreme. Do we have to ask if anyone would have the audacity to push a project of this magnitude through in North Berkeley or Central Berkeley? Building the Ed Roberts campus on the other side of Bart at the same time will lead to major changes, likely congestion and traffic problems during the construction process as it is.  

I am disappointed that our council member and mayor have missed opportunities to inform local neighborhood groups or newspapers about this project prior, seemingly trying to purposely push it through quickly without informing the neighborhoods. Councilmember Max Anderson, I am glad you are a member of our Lorin District neighborhood list serve who spoke at our last three meetings. I hope you will be a representative of the constituents you serve. I am disappointed that you did not share this plan when you spoke at our last three neighborhood meetings. I spoke to several active members of the community who had no inkling of this plan before the Daily Planet article.  

Mayor Bates, we know you have been in favor of transit villages since 1994 and that your wife, Assemblymember Hancock, just drafted legislation to allow a city to use an existing specific development as a plan for a transit village. Couldn’t you and Loni have taken time to let us know of your plans for our neighborhood.? 

Project director Mr. Church applied for the grant funds on behalf of the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation on Oct. 14. Seems like the SBNDC, and sponsor Councilmember Anderson have big plans for our neighborhood. Few know anything about the SBNDC or their plans for our neighborhood. Mr. Church says that, “the neighborhood can only be a neighborhood again when there is a great infill housing project in there.” Funny, it has always felt like a neighborhood to me. If I had wanted to live among massive condo projects with no heart and soul, I would have moved to Emeryville.  

Robin Wright 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was shocked and horrified to hear that our (alleged) representative in city government, Max Anderson, had moved a personal proposal for a massive-scale housing development to a stage where its grant application is to be voted on, without a single word to the entire community. Unless the article reported in the Daily Planet was some kind of bad joke or an attempt at fictionalized news (think the radio broadcast of some generations earlier, purporting to announce the invasion of aliens on Planet Earth), Max Anderson and all of the Berkeley City Council are due for a major reality check. No thank you very much, we do not want an enormously over-scaled housing development in the midst of an established community, whether to house rich, poor or a band of displaced Bantu Pygmies. Max Anderson has conspicuously, a-hem, overlooked the necessity to speak with the people who already live here, in this brazen assumption that our opinions, needs, and even survival can be discounted as unimportant to the decision-making process. He is badly mistaken. 

For the years I have lived in South Berkeley, I innocuously assumed that elected officials from the COB would never broach decisions of such import to the community without some form of prior accord with the residents they were elected to serve. Clearly, that assumption was tragically naive. We are left with few opportunities to redress a situation badly out of sync with the surrounding community. All they had to do was ask, and they would have learned that few, if any residents of South Berkeley are interested in building a leviathan of a structure in our midst. It is amazing to think that the reasons why not to do so need to be spelled out. 

No, it is the effrontery with which some take our passive compliance for granted that is infuriating. Rather than waste breath and ink explaining the obvious reasons, let me cut to the chase. I, for one (but one among thousands, I’ll wager) are sick to death of the paternalistic, presumptuous, policy-making that substitutes for true representation in the City of Berkeley. I am tired of being treated like a doormat, and this will not be allowed to pass into being without a serious challenge. Should the City Council adopt this ill-conceived plan, I intend to mount a class action suit against the city, and any and all employees party to the proposal. With a required minimum number of 50 signatories with similar claims, I could easily sign up that many from one or two blocks. I have already spoken with a couple of attorneys willing to represent us in Superior Court for such an eventuality. I will insist that the Department of Justice investigate such a usurpation of our rights. I will make certain there is news coverage that is heard nationwide. And—trust me—the cost to the city will be exponentially higher than building the development itself. This is not a threat; it is a promise. Those who have worked with me before know I mean what I say. 

Sam Herbert 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a long-time Berkeley resident, I’m hoping that the front page story on Dec. 13, “Downtown Retail Taxes Down by 10 Percent,” was an attempt at humor. No one could really be surpassed that retail taxes are down because consumers don’t need the hassle of shopping in downtown Berkeley. If Internet sales are to blame as was suggested, then presumably the retail sales of all other jurisdictions such as Emeryville and San Francisco should be down by a like amount. I doubt that they are! Then to suggest that the cause may be too long blocks, turning cars, too many property owners, and lack of inviting public spaces suggests the city might want to look for help in solving their problem elsewhere. 

I don’t shop anymore in downtown Berkeley, or go to restaurants there, or go to movies there, because it is faster, cheaper, easier to drive to north Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito, or even to a BART station to go to San Francisco, than to hassle with going to downtown Berkeley. The city has made it clear that they don’t want shoppers to drive downtown. Finding a parking spot takes too much time, and the garages cost way too much. The city put the cart before the horse—discouraging cars before they provided mass transportation. If a city has mass transportation, like New York City, Paris, or London, it makes sense to discourage cars and to not provide parking and access to the downtown. But if it doesn’t, then be prepared for a drop in customers and a very unamazing, though alarming, drop in retail sales tax. A no-brainer! 

David Weitzman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I got a chuckle when I read that the Saturday Farmer’s Market was “partly conceived as a way to attract customers to downtown (but) has only succeeded in attracting customers to the Farmers’ Market” and attributes the failure somehow to lack of trees. It seems to me, as someone who shops the Saturday market and makes occasional forays on foot to Shattuck, that there has been little or no thought ever given to enticing the market’s customers into the downtown. Center Street, the most obvious route from the market to Shattuck, has never been a pleasant street known for its verdant greenery. Now, for many months in the past and evidently many more months in the future, the sidewalk on the south side is blocked by construction on the new Vista building—from all appearances a to-the-curb, looming structure that is already blocking the sun. On the north side of the street, rather than interesting shops that might lure the shopper along, there are empty and underutilized storefronts, waiting, I take it, for the next phase of high-rise development.  

Planning in Berkeley? Get real. There are more cows. 

Joanne Kowalski 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A message for the Berkeley Unified School District and the City of Berkeley: 

We are writing regarding the proposed move of the south Berkeley Farmers’ Market. We know that you are weighing various options that would accommodate a baseball field and the needs of other sports as well as the market. We are hopeful that a proposal can be found that will accommodate the needs of all, but we are concerned that the Farmers’ Market may get overlooked in the shuffle of available funds, space and expediency.  

Full Belly Farm has been attending the South Berkeley Farmers Market year round since 1989. We also deliver our organic produce to several restaurants and stores in the east bay including Monterey Market, Market Hall Produce, Star Grocery, Oliveto, Chez Panisse, Venus, Lalimes and many others. Our farm membership of 550 families in the east bay also receives a weekly box of produce. It is the combination of all of these venues that make it possible for us to attend the Berkeley Farmers Market. In order to make an economically viable run, we combine the deliveries to individuals, restaurants and stores with a day at the Berkeley farmers’ market. If one element of the strategy falls away, the future of all these elements is jeopardized. 

The presence near Berkeley of a farm belt of growers who live within driving distance means that the city is blessed by a local food economy in which many of the profits are staying local rather than being sucked into the faraway pockets of international food distributions and marketing businesses. Local farms also bring educational opportunities. Several annual events at Full Belly draw large numbers of people from the east bay: Our Hoes Down Harvest Festival in October 2005 drew 4,000, the majority of whom were from the east bay and a huge number of whom were families with young children. In addition we offer various classes, kids-camps and on-farm activities that are in high demand. We believe that the steady, year-round presence of mid-scale farms like Full Belly at the market provide a stabilizing anchor. We offer a diverse array of fruits, nuts, vegetables and flowers picked the day before the market. This is an important part of what makes the market work for the customers.  

A partnership must exist between the market and the city in order for the market to work. A market can be a wonderful addition to the quality of life in a city, building civic capital and pride of place. Or it can be a statement about the lack of those things. A market without parking, without bathrooms, without lights and with only a few token farmers reflects poorly on a city. 

The Ecology Center has provided an excellent list of major needs of the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market. These include: parking for customers, the handicapped and overflow farmers; visibility and accessibility; restrooms with running water; and lighting. We hope that these needs can be accommodated in the plans for expansion of the school district sports program. 

We would be happy to discuss these issues further. 

Judith Redmond on behalf  

of Full Belly Farm 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Music is my daily pleasure at home. Since the main public library has a great collection of DVDs—everything from Bach to pop—my CD changer is always full of silver discs. No problems. But since the RFID magnetic strips have been added to every disc there are now frequent glitches in the sound. In the last two borrowings three discs have had defective strips—or strips that became defective from being played. The music will stop at a certain point and may pick up 30 seconds later—or not. When I check there are missing chunks of strip that appear to be causing the silence. 

Was this technological innovation necessary? I also noted that the casings for the dvds have been simplified and no longer require the hand motion to unlock that had supposedly caused repetitive stress injury for library workers. So what is the point of all this technology if the net result is technical trouble. 

At a recent library trustees meeting a representative of the RFID manufacturer was asked about the advantage of the tags over the simple strips. His reply: “It’s faster.” If this is the main criterion of the possibly $2 million plus that has been spent so far for this system I would say this money has been totally wasted. As a tax payer and a strong supporter of everything else the library does, I protest the colossal waste of our money on expensive—and unnecessary—tech toys. 

I do not want to live in a world of machines. I like talking for 30 seconds to the people at the circulation desk. They are often interested in the books and music I borrow, have read the book or not and want to know what it’s about. Such a pleasant and human exchange. 

If this inane tech trend continues it may very well end up with robot readers who won’t complain about other machines checking them out, and since there won’t be any privacy issues to deal with and no health hazards, they will live in the perfect world that the next tech thing is always promising. 

Joan Levinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Keith Winnard’s highly critical letter of Assemblymember Loni Hancock’s proposed legislation to adopt public financing of campaigns on a state-wide basis (Letters, Dec. 9) is excellent in that it voices the fears many voters have of their tax money going to political candidates to run their campaigns. These fears are, however, based upon misconceptions. The public financing concept does not enable candidates to spend more money. If they qualify for public financing by obtaining a set number of small contributions, candidates can spend only the money they receive from the state and each candidate gets the same amount. This puts all candidates on an even playing field, and enables people who ordinarily would never consider running for office qualify and run. True, thanks to a Supreme Court finding that “money is free speech,” a candidate with lots of personal or special interest cash can chose to run without public funds, but, as Mr. Winnard points out, the amount of money spent does not necessarily determine the winner —and in states that have adopted public financing (Maine, Arizona and, a few weeks ago, Connecticut) politicians who chose to run with their own money have not done well. 

As for the cost to the taxpayer per election, it’s about the price of a movie ticket. This cost can soon become a savings when legislatures are controlled by politicians who owe their allegiance to the voter and not to special interests. California prison guards, for instance, invested approximately $1 million in political contributions and reaped over $500 million in benefits—no wonder Warren Buffet says he has never found a financial investment which will produce a return as high as a political contribution. Public financing “goes for the jugular” of a political system that operates under the myth that political contributions do not influence politicians. 

Another benefit is time. California state legislators spend as much as 70 percent of their time raising money after they are elected. Politicians elected through public financing spend a minimal amount of time raising money and must devote their time instead to serving the voters if they wish to be re-elected. 

But don’t take my word. See what voters and politicians—both Republics and Democrats—have to say in states that have tried public financing. Information can be found at publicampaign.org and takebackca.org. 

Tom Miller 

Advisory Board Member, TakebackCa.org 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My family and I will live closer to the West Berkeley Bowl than almost anyone. I have also been included in meetings about the Bowl, with the architect (who is a friend and former neighbor), the Yasuda family and neighbors from the beginning, many years ago. All of these years, and all of these many, many meetings later, the immediate neighbors have asked for one thing: a neighborhood-friendly store. That’s all. 

From the start, we worried about parking and traffic and our safety on our streets. We have asked to retain the quality of our little neighborhood, Potter Creek. And, everyone agreed that this was a good thing. We have provided maps and diagrams and traffic solutions and suggested buffers and barriers from our Eighth and Ninth and Tenth streets. But instead of including any of these solutions into the current plan, we have been asked to accept a much larger store than originally was proposed, and been told that one traffic signal will be the solution to all of our traffic worries. This is crazy. 

I understand that residents who are a little further off, and would be driving to the store, are very excited about the prospects of a new Bowl. I would be too. I drive to the original Bowl. But, for those of us who will see this complex of buildings from our front porches, our concerns are large and our lives (and that of our children) will change because of it.  

Could we please construct a neighborhood-friendly store? 

M. Sarah Klise  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gov. Schwarzenegger has allowed his life to imitate his art, if his former acting career could be so called. With the execution of Stanley Tookie 

Williams, he has misused his power to kill in real life, instead of just in the movies. 

In the 1600s we Americans burned witches at the stake in public. In the 1800s audiences watched hangings while munching on popcorn. Today, we are no different, only the technology has changed. When will we as a society advance? When will we elect a true leader who is brave enough to lead us in a discourse about the morality of murder by the state? 

For now we remain stuck with “Conan the Barbarian.” 

Heather Merriam 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The corporate owners of the huge toxic dump site in Richmond, in a recent letter to the editor, wrote “It is not true... that a residential development is currently planned for Campus Bay. Cherokee Simeon Ventures, LLC has withdrawn our development application as we continue to work with DTSC.” Nevertheless, Cherokee Simeon continues to send out slick full-color, multi-part mailings about how wonderful their housing development will be (warm, fuzzy photos of school buses, happy children, lush trees). Communities in Richmond are targeted with this sophisticated advertising, which includes a postage-paid card asking anyone who might support the development project to get in touch with the developer. 

Thank you, Daily Planet, for your lifeline of information about what is really going on in Richmond. We count on you. 

Soula Culver 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your thoughtful Dec. 13 editorial about religious hypocrisy revealed an interesting irony: Have evangelical conservatives gotten so busy suing and boycotting inclusive, secular institutions that they have no time left to actually practice religion? 

As your editorial (and the San Francisco Chronicle) reported, some evangelical high schools are suing the University of California for rejecting the skewed, academically deficient content of some of their courses.  

Meanwhile, other evangelical lawyers are suing UC for creating an online teaching guide about evolution. Their jaw-dropping complaint is that UC is unconstitutionally promoting the “religion” of Darwinism. 

Yet as you also pointed out, much of the evangelicals’ actual clerical wing—“megachurches” that each give thousands of members marching orders before elections —is declining to hold Christmas services this year. That’s even though Christmas Day falls on a Sunday.  

For shame! Shouldn’t someone sue to revoke the religious exemptions enjoyed by these “churches,” on the grounds that they’re failing to practice religion?  

Religious institutions are not only tax-exempt, but are now shielded from many local land-use laws. If these huge “churches” are really just secular political lobbies, shouldn’t they be subject to the same laws that Tom DeLay’s other lobbyist benefactors were supposed to observe? 

Conservative evangelicals’ aggressive adoption of litigation and boycotts is clearly payback for the decades they spent playing defense. Secular mainstream groups like the ACLU have successfully relied on the Constitution to protect minority faiths, unbelievers, and even mainline Protestants and Catholics from evangelicals’ real goal of establishing a conservative Protestant state religion. 

That’s why today, many of the evangelicals’ legal claims sound like parodies of the arguments they’ve lost. But progressives should take their efforts seriously, and should sue them right back with just as much imagination and whimsy.  

Spiritual freedom is indivisible. It’s preserved only when everyone is free to seek knowledge and to worship (or not) according to their own calling, without government coercion or endorsement. Keeping government out of religion (and vice versa) is exactly what has helped religion flourish here like in no other industrialized country. 

Oh, and Happy Kwanzaa to all. 

Marcia Lau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Assuming this letter is published, given Editor O’Malley’s persistent and virulent anti-Zionist views, i.e. denial of the right of the existence of a national Jewish homeland, I respond to Conn Hallinan’s Dec. 9 column pointing to the plight of Palestinian Arab residents of the Gaza strip after the Israeli withdrawal. 

Hallinan repeats the familiar Arab concept that whatever misfortune befalls Arabs is not of their own making but of the nefarious actions of others, usually Jews. He does not examine the reasons for the success of Jews from Europe, the Middle East and Africa in constructing a modern, vibrant and democratic society, whatever its shortcomings. This is so, even though the vast majority of those immigrants came from impoverished backgrounds. The contrast with Palestinian, by and large, living in squalid refugee camps for more than half a century, despite generous world-wide financial assistance, is inexplicable. 

In any event, the Gaza “problem” is easily solvable. Adjacent to Gaza is the Sinai peninsula, a tiny outpost of the Egyptian land mass. When Israel occupied this land between 1967 and the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords in the 1970s, thriving Israeli settlements were built in this previously undeveloped area, e.g. Yamit on the Mediterranean and the resort developments on the Gulf of Aqaba coast. These settlements were ceded by Israel after Egyptian President Sadat (who was murdered by his fellow Arabs for his efforts) negotiated a peace agreement with Israel. 

Why not open Sinai to a similar development by Gazan and other Palestinian Arabs? Surely Egypt would welcome these Arab brethren to its underutilized frontier lands. Most assuredly Arab OPEC members would provide financial assistance on behalf of the unified “Arab Street.” Thus the settlers of this land could develop a modern, economically thriving political democracy to be emulated by all Arab states in the region. 

Milton Gordon 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Professor White brought up many issues in his commentary on the Justice for Palestine art exhibit at the Berkeley Art Center. Professor White is a strong advocate for the policies of Israel. He doesn’t like certain customs of Arab cultures; he doesn’t like the Middle East Children’s Alliance; he doesn’t think Arab countries do enough to resettle Palestinian refugees; he reminds us of the needs of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.  

I’ve read other letters where many of these points are brought up, when Palestine is discussed. 

But, we are talking about an art exhibit, not those other things. The art exhibit centers on the feelings of the artists on the subject of occupation and the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza, by a foreign nation, Israel. 

When you throw up all these other side issues, you obscure the big problem. You make it seem so complicated that most people feel they could never figure it out, so why try. 

In a conversation with a friend, I realized that she thought the West Bank was in Israel, rather than an area that was part of the land designated for Arabs, who were displaced buy the foundation of Israel, in 1948. It’s not that complicated. There are many sources of information. 

I like the web site of “If Americans Knew.” This is a pro-Palestinian site. Another good one that puts out the Zionist position, is the Young Zionists of America website.  

Many people feel that this occupation is part of the answer to the question asked after 9/11: “Why do they hate us?” Whether it is or not, it’s big and it’s going on right now, and all of us have the ability to be part of the solution, but we have to educate ourselves, and we have to be able to talk about it. 

Barbara Henninger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gale Garcia’s article about “new developments in West Berkeley” was most interesting, particularly about the marshlands filled in that area. 

About 25 years ago, my brother was working on a construction project in the filled area west of the freeway in Emeryville in those apartment complexes. Part of this project was to re-pave the parking spaces under the apartments. The foreman of the paving crew told him that this was the “umpteenth” time they had paved these parking spaces, and that the asphalt was now about 15 feet deep. Maybe the mud fill depth was the case at that one location, but then again... 

Gordon Cavana